iPad audio to HiFi via RCA cables

Discussion in 'iPAD Connect' started by veryken, Sep 17, 2012.

  1. veryken
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    veryken iPF Novice

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    I'm about to get this cable so that I can play the highest fidelity music (Apple Lossless ripped from CDs) from my iPad to a very nice home stereo amplifier and speakers. This would be iPad's headphone jack output to the HiFi stereo's front RCA input (just the white and red cables for left and right channels). Anybody else doing this? Any problems? Amazing audio quality, yes? Better than Bluetooth wireless yes?

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  2. iDuffer
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    iDuffer iPad Fan

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    I guess you could 'chew the cud' regarding the quality of the DAC in the iPad headphone output, compared to the SPDIF out of an Airport Express connected to an external DAC. However the 3.5mm to RCA is certainly the easiest / cheapest option.
  3. veryken
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    veryken iPF Novice

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    I guess you're talking about digital audio as opposed to analog (iPad's headphone jack). It would be interesting if I could equate. So let's see...

    My quick research on the acronym DAC reveals it to stand for Digital to Analog Converter. So your term "external DAC" as opposed to "DAC in the iPad headphone output" would mean some kind of additional hardware device but similar in function (conversion to analog) yet presumably superior in audio quality. Stop me if I'm wrong.

    Now, the cable I mentioned costs maybe $10. It would go to the front panel of my pretty good stereo amplifier, which also has optical and coaxial digital input in the back that I would love to use for superior audio. It's definitely a stereo system that I want to keep for many other reasons. No need to dump it.

    But your "external DAC" device seems to cost in the neighborhood of $400.

    Then there's the Airport Express with digital out, which I don't have. So an additional $99. Are you sure that's a digital output? So going through the external DAC to the stereo amplifier would still mean analog but superior quality?

    Stop me if I'm wrong.

    I was just fearing that the output level of the iPad's headphone jack does not match the input level required by the white and red RCA input. But I welcome alternative or superior solutions.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012
  4. iDuffer
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    iDuffer iPad Fan

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    Yes, you are right in all aspects. The airport express does however have a digital output (in addition to the analog stereo 3.5mm) The same socket doubles as a 3.5mm digital TOSLINK socket. I would imagine with the addition of a 'Digital Mini Toslink 3.5mm to Toslink Optical Converter' you could connect the airport express to the rear of your stereo amp. So there are now four options.

    1) Use the iPad 3.5mm headphone output direct to your amp (analog)
    2) Buy the airport express, use the 3.5mm stereo (analog) output, and connect to your stereo amp.
    3) Buy the airport express, use the 3.5mm stereo (digital TOSLINK) output and connect to the digital input of your stereo amp.
    4) Buy an External DAC. Buy the airport express, connect them(digitally) and then connect the analog output of the DAC to your stereo amp.

    To me it sounds like option 3 would be perfect, it gives the convenience of airplay (allowing you to sit in your listening position with your iPad) and a high quality digital connection to your stereo amp.

    Obviously this cost $99. Option 1 is perfectly valid, I guess it depends upon how much you value the convenience. You are also correct in that the output level of the iPad is at headphone levels. Care is needed when connecting, and some might argue about voltage/impedance effecting sound quality. In fact, if you google "Headphone Jack + Stereo Receiver = Fail" there is an interesting article.

    Option 4 might give you the ultimate in sound quality. This will depend upon the quality of the DAC present in your current stereo amp, and your budget for the external DAC.

    Interestingly, the article suggests there might be a 5th option. Accessing the 'line level' output of Apple devices using the docking connector. I have not attempted this.
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2012
  5. veryken
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    veryken iPF Novice

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    Excellent ideas and discussion! Thank you.

    Indeed, Option 3 seems perfect for me (actually for anybody who already owns the rather common/ modernish stereo amp with optical input). But your mention of the "built-in DAC" got my brain juices flowing again — maybe getting off topic but is there always some DAC (digital to analog conversion) in any signal transfer regardless of source signal? In other words, why would an external box be better? Common CD players are then essential DAC equipment, yes? And most are pretty darn good for playing superior uncompressed digital audio. Then taking the physical CD player out of the equation (replacing with iPad) should be transparent/ seamless/ functionally identical. Yes? If so, it would give me more confidence that my existing stereo amp would be good enough, maybe superior to any external DAC box, which would only mimic/ reproduce/ replicate such conversion (like for those who don't have the stereo amp). I'm back tracking as a novice. Stop me if I'm wrong.

    But if correct, then it would be ideal.

    So the expense for me is $99, considering also that I'm keeping my entire audio collection in the iPad in Apple Lossless because I think I can tell the difference through my superior home stereo system compared to either MP3 or through headphones. The Toslink adapter cable becomes the other expense.

    That impedance mismatch was what I first thought somebody would jump on (I haven't really experienced the signficance of it), but it's rather confusing because of the front panel placement in the home stereo amp. It's right next to the big headphone jack, welcoming all devices to plug in. Or are all RCA input the same? And sound quality is completely rubbish as a result? And so Option 2 might be the only acceptable "lower" option?

    This would all mean I must absolutely go off shopping for an Apple Express Base Station. And look into how it fits with (or replaces?) my existing dual-band N router. Or whether it should simply sit independently behind my stereo amp untethered to my LAN and separately WiFi'd to my iPad...

    Correct me if I'm wrong anywhere. This is all just in my head.

    A line-level cable (or converting adapter cable whatever) from the iPad docking port might trump it all for convenience/quality/cost. Please Apple please! Maybe pipe dream considering the new iPhone 5 has a newer smaller docking port (next iPad might be same — old technology won't get attention).
  6. iDuffer
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    Yes, there will be some sort of DAC when dealing with digital source material, as we hear in analog ;)

    A CD player has an internal DAC(as does your AMP) and external DACs replicate this. Which is better?

    Manufacturers of exernal DACs would argue for example that they use more expensive chips(Burr-Brown etc), have better analog output stage design, better mains regulation/isolation etc. All of this dictates the overall sound quality.

    Having said that, we are getting into the realms of high end hi-fi here, differences do exist, but they are not the often described
    as 'night and day' types.

    Your own personal circumstances would dictate whether or not the extra expense of an external DAC is worth it.

    External DACs do have other benefits though, such as more connectivity for additional sources, but your amplifier already has this.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2012

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